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Meet me in the middle

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“Tails! Stop being stubborn and get over here!”

“No!”

Sonic was NOT a happy hedgehog. His usually adorable and docile little brother was hovering way above his reach. A pout on the young fox’s face indicated he wouldn’t come down anytime soon. He and Tails had been playing a game of cat and mouse for the better part of the morning and it seemed like Tails was running, or rather flying, on spite alone at this point. He was usually dead tired after so much flying.

“Tails, come down here or you’re grounded, no dinner tonight.” Sonic crossed his arms, he was tired of chasing after Tails all over Mystic Ruins. So he did what he had to do, even when faced with Tails’ expression of utter dismay after his claim. “I’m sorry it’s come to this but you give me no choice, you had all morning to come with me to the school’s office,” Sonic said, looking away from his friend to avoid showing off how pissed off he was.

Tails’ eyes were wide in shock. His brother, the one who had promised him the world when he was younger, who never broke promises and always let him stay up late to play video games, was… grounding him? By not giving him food? Possibly confining him to his room? His eyes started watering and he slowly came down, defeated. Some of his oldest memories were of being hungry and living alone, he didn’t want to be either of those ever again.

Sonic, who had previously been looking in the opposite direction in an attempt to look disinterested, glanced back when he heard muffled sniffles. If there was one thing he hated more than Eggman, it was tears. And the tears of his best friend? Even worse. Reality hit him like a truck, his previous words slowly coming back to him.

Sonic wished Amy would come and whack him with her hammer. Stupid, stupid hedgehog! Of course he shouldn’t have threatened to take away Tails’ dinner, he spent weeks convincing a scared 4 year old Tails that he would never go hungry as long as he was with him. The poor little guy used to overeat and get sick, puking it all back up and getting aggressive when he eventually had to withhold food from him to prevent any sickness. It’s a habit they had worked on so hard to break and here he was throwing all that work in the garbage! He threw another look at his depressed friend.

“Tails? Oh, nononono please don’t cry,” he uttered getting closer to the cub, hands hovering near his head, not sure if he wanted to be hugged or not. Sonic didn’t think he could take the rejection, his heart was already melting like chocolate at the sight of his little brother quietly crying, limp tails on the ground around him.

“C’mon Tails, I’m sorry I said that, you’re not grounded. We’ll get chili dogs, with extra cheese! Just like you like them, yum.” He was desperately rambling at this point, Tails was barely moving except for his staccato breathing and his ears twitching on occasions. He looked up when he heard that last bit of sentence.

“And I can have mint candy?”

“Don’t push it, kid, you still have to go to school.”

“Worth a shot.”

He was relieved Tails was at least attempting some lighthearted talk. He kneeled down on the grass to get to his buddy’s height, a heavy weight in his throat stopping him from saying anything for a few seconds. He was never good at comforting anyone, sassy remarks and humour was more his thing, but he highly doubted any of these would make Tails feel better right now. Especially since the cub wouldn’t even look at him, preferring to stare at a small dirt mound Sonic’s shoe had made 5 minutes earlier.

“Listen, buddy, it’s just… I want you to go to school for a bit, learn some things I can’t teach you, socialize.” He took a breath. “Why are you so against it? Don’t you love learning?” He gently put one of his hands on Tails’ shoulder tilting his head in confusion and looking for any emotion, Tails loved going to the library to find any big scientific tome he could get his paws on, it only made sense that he’d want to learn more.

The cub wasn’t crying anymore but his lower lip was trembling and his shoulders were shaking slightly. Oh boy, Sonic sure hoped he wouldn’t see the waterworks again, he would immediately take everything back and go home without getting anything done.

“It’s just…” Tails trailed off. Sonic perked up at this, he was opening up! Suddenly Tails looked a bit too happy. “It’s just that I already know everything they teach! See, no need to go,” Tails said triumphantly, seeming like he had found his golden ticket.

Unfortunately, Sonic had been living and raising him for the better part of a year and could see right through him.

“Yeah, that’s not it, little buddy. I can see there’s something else bothering you. Can’t you tell your awesome big bro about it?” The young cub’s ears flattened to his skull and his forced smile faltered, of course his brother could read him like a book. But Tails wouldn’t go down so easily, being raised by Sonic meant being raised just as stubborn as the blue blur himself.

“Grr, why can’t you leave it alone!” Tails spat, angry tears flying as he shook his head. He flicked Sonic’s hand off his shoulder and revved up his tails, preparing for flight. Unfortunately for him, but fortunately for Sonic, his earlier air tantrum left his tails cramped up, so Sonic had just enough time to grab him and bring him to his chest. Tails struggled a bit but ultimately just sagged against his brother’s warm fur. His naturally fast heartbeat becoming a soothing sound to him, calming him briefly.

Sensing his younger brother’s more calm demeanor, he scooped him up and placed him on his hip, walking slowly (or at least slow for him) towards their home in the Mystic Ruins.

“Ok, ok, let’s calm down. We’ll go home, dry those tears, eat something, and then we’ll talk about it. Does that sound good to you?” He looked down at the orange head buried in his neck. When they were younger, he always refused physical contact, worried that the cub would impale himself on his spikes, but it never happened. No, the kid was too smart for that. Even now, with his attempt at relaxing his quills as much as possible, he couldn’t shake off the worry, but he figured Tails was old enough to tell him if anything happened.

A gentle squeeze as Tails placed his arms around Sonic’s neck brought him back to reality. “And then I get mint candy, right?”

“You never give up, do ya?” Sonic laughed, hugging Tails just a bit tighter.

“Hm.”

Clearly, the day’s events were starting to take their toll on the little fox, his eyes drooping but fighting sleep.

“Rest up, we’ll be home when you wake up.”

Sonic was really dreading the years to come if he was this stubborn at only 5 years old.

◎◎◎

“Ok, how about we make a deal? You go to school but only in the morning.”

“No.”

“...Fine. How about morning classes, but only 3 days a week.”

“No.”

“Tails, you said we’d work this out. You have to cooperate.”

It’s true. After a dinner of chili dogs, extra cheese, and mint candy, the two had agreed to work things out. Seems like Tails forgot the definition of mutual agreement, though.

“Tails… Can you just tell me what’s wrong?” Sonic sighed, it was becoming a little worrying at this point, he knew his brother was smart, smart enough to rival geniuses such as Eggman, surely he knew the importance of going to school.

“...”

“Is it that you’re afraid of failing? I know you’d never fail any material, and even if you did, who cares!” The hedgehog cried out, feeling like he was talking to a wall. “The important thing here is to socialize.” An ear twitch from the fox. Ahh, so that was it.

“Are you afraid of what the other students will think of you?”

“...” Silence and indifference, but his fumbling fingers told otherwise.

“Work with me here, please.” He was not above begging anymore, and he was about to get angry. He knew if Tails kept pushing his buttons and staying silent, he’d start getting frustrated and then nothing would get done. Sonic was not known for his patience, he should’ve called Amy to settle this for him.

“I’ll get bullied again…” The fox mumbled into his chest, barely loud enough for the hedgehog to hear. Then he raised his voice and looked accusingly at the hedgehog, “You promised me you wouldn’t let anyone bully me again, yet here you are, throwing me into a pack of wolves! Who knows what they’ll do to me in there, and you won’t be there to help me.”

Sonic knew he had a point, he couldn’t guarantee he wouldn’t get bullied, as much as he wanted to make that promise, he just couldn’t.

“Tails, I-” Sonic didn’t know what to say, and Tails looked on the verge of crying away. His eyes were misted, surely he was remembering the life he left behind in Emerald Hill Zone, a life of abuse and bullying.

Tails continued, “And what I said was true! It’s not like I need to learn anything else from school; kids my age are learning how to read, but I can fix planes, fight robots, and hack Eggman’s machines! If I’m not there to help you, I’m as good as useless. I won’t get to spend any time with you. I don’t wanna be alone again.” His voice becoming smaller and smaller as Sonic just stared at him dumbly from across the table. He sipped from the hot cocoa Sonic had made for the both of them. It was lukewarm by now, but it was something to do to avoid looking at the house’s other occupant.

“I had no idea, I’m sorry.”

Tails’ head snapped up. Sonic apologizing?

“You’re right, you don’t need to go to school, you’re smarter than every adult I’ve ever met. And you’re way more needed fighting Eggman than learning how to write cursive in some classroom.

I knew I would miss you too if you went to school, I mean, do you ever see me hang out with other people? I’d never abandon you, you're my best friend and the only one I see on a regular basis. I just wanted to let you socialize with kids your own age a bit. I realize being cooped up with me all the time can’t be the best thing for you, socially, and I didn’t want to deprive you of making new friends. It can’t be healthy to only have one friend.” Sonic was rambling again, toying with his empty mug.

Tails was afraid it’d slip out of his hand and crash on the floor, he followed it with his eyes as he replied, “I, no, we have other friends, there’s Amy, Knuckles, Cream and Miss Vanilla, the Chaotix, and I saw Big this morning by the swamps. They’re all our friends.”

“Alright, I get it,” Sonic laughed lightly. “Now that we’ve established that we both have friends, do you really don’t feel the need to go to school? Or is it just your fear of being bullied? And don't try to talk your way out of this, I know you better than anyone else.”

Sensing he couldn't hide the truth, Tails simply said, “Well, both?” He got up and sat on the seat next to Sonic, bashfully cozying up to him. “I really DON’T need to go, I can learn anything from books! And I know my fear of socializing is irrational-” “It’s not.” “-but I also don’t feel the need to have more friends, I like my small close-knit family.” He stopped and twirled his fingers, a little shy at being so open. He hadn’t known Sonic for that long, and here he was pouring his heart out.

Sonic took this silent pause to rub the cub’s head, scratching behind an ear where he knew it would make his brother purr.

“Alright, no school for you, little buddy. BUT,” Sonic said as Tails glanced back up at him. “You need to take the yearly exams, you can do those in private, but they have to be done at an institution. It’s required by the government for any mobian under 15.”

“What! But you don't do them! You don’t go to school either.”

“I’m busy with Eggman so I get a free pass. And I do them! Every year! I just fail them.”

They both burst out laughing.